I chuckle whenever I read Google reviews and some alltrails.com ratings for Mt. Morrison. I picture in my mind an adorable family from Iowa climbing Mt. Morrison, then the mom leaving a cautionary tale of survival for others who dare tempt life and limb on this harsh and forbidding trail.
The truth about the Mt. Morrison trail is it should demand your respect, but it is not the monster some claim it to be. You’re climbing a mountain, folks. If you’re looking for a leisurely walk in the park, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a good workout, a true mountain climbing experience without having to drive hours from Denver, and a fun scramble on class 2 terrain, then Mt. Morrison is everything you could want.
The unmarked trail starts near Red Rocks entrance #4, on the north side of Bear Creek Road about a half-mile west of downtown Morrison. There is a small parking area at the entrance, and the trail starts just a few yards up the road on the west side. It wastes no time getting started on its climb up almost 1900 feet in 1.75 miles. The first few hundred feet are mostly dirt, but the trail soon becomes rockier (and easier when wet). It follows a power line that is uncomfortably low in places, so watch the pets and kids. After stepping over the power line (quite literally) at about the half mile mark, the trail levels out for a short distance before one more steep ascent to Morrison’s south ridge. The excellent and obvious trail turns north and follows the ridge for almost a mile through rock dens and patches of Gamble oaks and pinon pines. You will glimpse Morrison’s imposing final pitch in the distance several times while working your way north on this easy ridge. Finally, after about a mile and a half from the trailhead, you’ll reach the base of one of the great scrambles in Denver’s Front Range foothills. The trail braids over the next several hundred vertical feet, so you have several options. All options provide at least a Class 2 experience. Depending on the route you chose, you might encounter short sections of borderline Class 3 scrambling. The more obvious trail options will be lower in difficulty. The trails converge near the top, with only an easy hundred lateral feet or so remaining to the summit.
On the summit are a couple of concrete pads (foundations of what were probably buildings years ago) and plenty of space to find a patch of solitude for a picnic lunch. You’ll enjoy unparalleled views of the entire Denver metro, Pikes Peak to the south, Evans to the west, and Longs to the north. Forget Lookout Mountain—Morrison is the place to be on a warm summer evening during sunset. Remember to be a good neighbor and stay away from radio station KXLT’s transmitting tower.
Mt. Morrison is not listed as an official trail on Jefferson County Open Space’s website, but it is part of their park system. It is great practice for the more difficult 14ers or for getting in a good workout after a long day at the office. As with any foothills hike, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes—especially during the scramble near the top.
And if you’re an adorable family from Iowa, allow me to suggest less technical hikes like Staunton State Park, Walker Ranch, or 3 Sisters.
Check out my YouTube video of this hike: https://youtu.be/Fl9mSs9CN7g
Field notes for Mt. Morrison: https://stevegrimeswriter.com/2021/06/22/field-notes-mt-morrison/
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